June 8, 2013
Merry Prankster Trip on DVD
Now Playing: Bureman & O'Rourke

Anyone reading this is likely to have seen the 2011 documentary Magic Trip already, so I'll spare you the full disclosure. It took two experienced docu film makers to figure out how to handle the technical problems with the Further bus trip footage. As Jane Burton laments in the voice-over (actually an actress reciting Burton's words), a major problem with the Merry Pranksters was that they believed that just because you wanted to do something, you could also do it--as though there was no learning curve. So when they set out to make a movie, they didn't know about the most fundamental things such as using a clapper for audio/visual synchronization, or shooting recurring establishing shots that made the location and situation clear. The 40 hours were an out of synch mess, which the remaining Pranksters worked decades to sort out. The video material released in the late 1990s was the first truly watchable version, but it revealed other problems with the material, such as most of the audio being incomprehensible, even if now more or less in synch. And there was still no narrative framework, making it acceptable mostly to fans who already knew the story in and out.

What was done with this new, professional documentary was to allow the Pranksters themselves provide running commentary to the images seen on the screen, using either existing recordings, or adding new recordings with Pranksters and actors. This is much more effective than the modern intro provided with the circa 1999 self-released VHS movies (in 2 parts), and it gives both context, narrative thread and a professional feel. With these fundamental problems solved, the viewer's focus is directed where it should be long, which is the beautiful and often spectacular footage from the coast-to-coast bus trip. Shot with 16 mm cameras much of the footage is in remarkably good quality, some of it so pristine it looks brand new and therefore slightly surreal (same effect as the Jim Morrison 'HWY' footage inserted into People Are Strange). In addition, there are several minutes of never-before seen footage from the return home leg through Canada, including a beautiful communal trip on JT 191 by a rural lake. And so finally, after almost 50 years, the film that shows the Pranksters' search for the Kool place has been packaged in a lasting format that can be consulted when anyone wants to learn about Further and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. I wish it could have been even longer than 100 minutes, but that's the fan-boy in me speaking.

So, the DVD version. The bonus material includes a half-dozen omitted scenes, all of which were worth seeing, if brief. The most remarkable was a parachute flight including footage of the bus from above; although shaky and fuzzy, it's unique and surprising enough that it should have been included. There was a brief visit to Las Vegas that is hardly ever mentioned in the Further chronicles, and one wishes the band would have stayed there a day or two and kept the cameras rolling. A few other snips follow, including one that shows the bus being towed into a parking spot after the trip, and some surprising footage from Mexico 1966, with the core Pranksters joining Kesey. They are seen at a bull-fight, but not much more. Ditto for the highly interesting Berkeley Vietnam Day prank which Kesey calls one of their best efforts, which is what I've always felt too. They were decades ahead of their time here... in fact people still haven't understood the importance of this message. You do not win over an opponent by opposing him with his own tools on his own arena; the only thing you do is strengthening him. Ralph Metzner said much the same thing in a 1967 interview. The acidheads know, some day the rest will follow.

Finally, there is a 50-minute audio recording from Kesey's first hallucinogen trip at Menlo Park, an item of extraordinary historical value, and pretty funny too, in parts.

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 22:05 MEST
Updated: June 8, 2013 22:18 MEST

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